POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 27, 2011
In a perfect world the schedule wouldn't matter in college football. But there it is, and that's why Nevada — despite losing a couple of superstars to the NFL — is in a great position to win at least a share of the Western Athletic Conference football championship, as it did last year, tying with Hawaii and Boise State.
"You're going to pick Nevada to win the WAC? You're going to need Hawaii Five-0 protection," said Chad Hartley, who used to cover the Wolf Pack for the Reno Gazette-Journal and now works for the school's sports information department.
But it's Bad Chad's fault; he's the one who got me thinking Nevada could remain stellar this fall, even without headliners Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, tailback Vai Taua and defensive end Dontay Moch. Between innings at a Hawaii-Nevada softball game last spring, Hartley reminded me that most of Nevada's offensive line comes back, and there's plenty of confidence in senior Tyler Lantrip's ability to operate the pistol.
"There's no way he'll run like Colin, but there will be more balance," Hartley said, and Mike Ball is expected to pick up where Taua left off.
The WAC schedule maker was kind to the Pack. Nevada plays six of its last eight at home, where it has lost only to Missouri in the past two years. Hawaii visits on Nov. 12, UH is a field goal from being 0-5 there. If this game were at Aloha Stadium, where Nevada can't win, I'd pick Hawaii to take the conference.
The WAC media poll comes out Thursday. Here's how I filled out my ballot:
Defense should be improved with the Pack's best back seven in a very long time, featuring linebacker James-Michael Johnson and cornerback Isaiah Frey. Nevada also hosts Fresno State and LaTech.
The Warriors have my picks for player of the year on both sides of the ball, quarterback Bryant Moniz and linebacker Corey Paredes, and a stout supporting cast, especially on defense. It will come down to the Nevada game. Unfortunately, it's in Reno.
3. Fresno State
On talent alone, including running back Robbie Rouse, the Bulldogs would win the WAC. But how many times have we said that in previous years, only to see them falter?
4. Louisiana Tech
Lennon Creer (1,181 rushing yards) and sackmaster Matt Broha are back, and that bodes well for LaTech, as does hosting Hawaii rather than traveling to the islands.
5. Utah State
Linebacker Bobby Wagner doesn't have enough help for this team to break into the upper half of the conference, especially with quarterback Diondre Borel having completed his run in Logan.
Coach Robb Akey turned things around but now he's got a big rebuilding project — and we're not talking a replacement for the kozy Kibbiedome.
7. San Jose State
The Spartans become the WAC's most senior school next year. That won't save them from yet another woeful football season this fall despite returning nearly all of 2010's starters.
8. New Mexico State
UH's Alex Green shredded the NMSU defense for 327 yards last year — now the Aggies don't have their best player, cornerback Davon House. Can Leilehua grad Andrew Manley make up for it at quarterback? Maybe next year, when Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada are gone.